Winter at the Farm

31 01 2011

 

We always get asked what it is do farmers do in the winter? Do we take it easy, slow down, go on vacation or what? Well, there hasn’t been a whole lot of slow down this winter. To some extent, we have to, there just isn’t enough light in the day to work as much outside as we normally do and it is and has been very cold, snowy or windy and that takes more energy out of you than the hot summer sun of August. So even if you can only work for 6-8 hours, it still feels like you worked twice that. We have chores every morning- pigs, sheep & cattle need food and fresh water (though the sheep seem to prefer to eat snow most of the time) and that doesn’t include plowing snow whenever needed so that our employees and stable manager can get in to do their own chores. This winter, we fill the rest of the day with construction whenever feasible- the farmstand got its roof and is now completely enclosed and the root cellar stairs are done. We are waiting to put in windows and finish siding until we get the barn more complete. The new barn has most of the hay mow finished and the exterior walls are mostly up. We’re waiting on some lumber to finish getting milled and delivered before finishing the interior pens, the rest of the mow and the roof rafters (we didn’t want to put on the roof until the mow was finished- it is a LONG way down otherwise). Lots of planning, accounting and meetings also happen in the winter- enough to try and set up as much of the coming season as possible so that we don’t have to stop in the middle of a project. Also winter is when the farm makes firewood happen from our sustainably managed woodlot, cutting the next season’s wood and making seasoned wood for delivery. Logging is easier when the forest floor is either completely dry or frozen solid. We are currently logging in a section of woodlot close behind the main farm- bike & horse trails cross through it, and it will look a lot different in the spring. When Dicken and Seth log, they are clearing trees that are mature and ready for harvest, but also thinning out scrubby or unhealthy trees and leaving the most gorgeous trees as seed trees to promote healthy, vigorous saplings and the varieties that we are looking for.  

This winter has brought frigid temperatures and lots and lots of snow so far. Great for those of us who like winter-time snow activities such as sledding, skiing and skating- but not so great for finishing barns. The sheep seem to hardly notice the weather- they have free access to a nice warm barn whenever they would like to be inside, but we rarely ever find them in there whether there is freezing rain or a foot of snow. We’ve even taken to feeding them in the barn whenever there is a threat of inclement weather- they come inside to calling for their hay, usually covered in a couple of inches of snow and look disgruntled when it starts to melt. The ewe lambs actually started to shed a little wool when we were bringing them inside every night at the beginning of the winter (their mommas were up in a higher pasture with the ram and we were running separate flocks). Keep in mind, this barn is not heated. The flock has been reunited (the ram, Arlo, is back in his own paddock with his buddy Leo) and now there is outdoor access round the clock and everyone prefers to sleep outside. Lambing is scheduled (HAH!) to begin in mid-April as things hopefully warm up a little. Of course, some of those girls out there are looking mighty huge already and we wouldn’t be at all surprised if we have a few earlier lambs in the group.

Pigs are still out on pasture for the next week while we finish up pens for them in the new barn. The barn isn’t finished yet, still lacking a roof, but the hay mow is finished enough to provide adequate shelter from the elements. As soon as the pens are built, we will march the pig herd down the road and into their new quarters, just in time for the four sows to farrow their newest litters of piglets. (Yep. these are the spring feeder piglets, call us now to put in your orders).

We just moved the cattle down from the upper Turkey Field pasture this past week where they have been since the end of October. The picture of Sweetie’s calf on the left was taken the day after we moved them up to that field (the day this little guy was born) when we had an unexpected cold snap and the wind chill rates reached 15-20 degrees. We were so worried about this brand-new wet calf that Jesse took a fleece vest of Morgan’s up to the field in the middle of the night andwrestled the calf into it. It worked wonders and the next morning (chilly as it was) found a frisky calf gamboling along after his mother. He wore the vest for the day and Jesse took it off the day after- it needed a good washing and then Morgan wore it to school soon after.

 We were starting to have difficulty getting the tractors up the road and across the fields to the cattle with all the snow (and you don’t really want to plow a road through the hayfield) and so we decided to move them all down to the Nut Field which is closer to the main farmyard and right on the main farm road. Getting them their daily ration of haylage and dry hay will be a lot easier from here on out. They love the Nut field, it has lots of trees to rub on, hollows to settle into out of the wind and a ready water supply. We also like seeing them more often than once a day and judging from the sudden increase of visitors, our friends of the farm seem to like seeing them too. (It couldn’t be the cuteness of calves could it?)

CSA brochures went out in the mail at the beginning of last week, we hope everyone got theirs. If not, give Desiree a call and she will get one out to you. The sign-up form will shortly be available here on the blog. If you need extra brochures for friends, co-workers or have a good spot to put them out, let us know and we’ll send you a batch. We hope that you are all looking forward to delicious, fresh veggies as much as we are! If you would like to help out with seeding in the greenhouse, we’d also like to know- we get started with that in March! We started our first experimental wintertime CSA extension in Nov & Dec of 2010 where we offered a boxed share every other week and we think that we will definitely be doing it again and more extensively for 2011- this is not on the Summer CSA sign-up form, but will go out to this season’s members later in the season. We had a lot of fun making and packing boxes- we learned a lot about what worked well and what could have been better. We will solve most of our problems by just having the hoophouse finished, full and ready to go (and with the plans already in place and seed ordered and planting scheduled- we will definitely make it happen) and the quick hoops tunnels fully installed over beds of field veggies (and all up by the hoophouse which will make getting to them easier). We still don’t know how well things have overwintered with the frigid temperatures, but we have our fingers crossed for early early spring veggies.

Desiree has been spending the last month organizing field rotations and plans for the 2011 gardens, she’s also been ordering seeds and supplies,planning greenhouse rotations and making seeding charts for the garden transplants and for the 3rd annual Plant Sale coming up in May. Look for postcards in the mail about the sale- we’re making it bigger and better this year, with lots of great bedding plants and veggie starts.

We will soon be gearing up for sugaring season, let’s all keep our fingers crossed for a great syrup run this year- it has been a little disappointing the last couple of years and we’ve sold out of most of our syrup before February rolls around again. Lots of work has been getting done on the sugar-bush throughout the fall- replacing parts of the saplines and making lots of repairs, hopefully this will make for a better season (that and no January thaw might mean we actually get some of the lighter grade syrups for a change).

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